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University of Minnesota Launches Review Project For Open Textbooks

Unknown Lamer posted about 2 years ago | from the textbook-lobby-looking-nervous dept.

Books 133

New submitter Durinia writes "Minnesota Public Radio is running a story about the University of Minnesota's Open Textbooks project. The goal of the project is to solicit reviews of college-level open source textbooks and collect those that pass muster onto their website. The project will focus first on high-volume introductory classes such as those for Math and Biology, because as David Ernst, director of the project, states in the interview: 'You know the world doesn't need another $150 Algebra One book. Algebra One hasn't changed for centuries, probably.'" Requirements for inclusion include: Open licensing (Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike), complete content (no glorified collections of lecture notes), applicability outside of the author's institution, and print availability.

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133 comments

Well, good. (5, Interesting)

ShakaUVM (157947) | about 2 years ago | (#39780049)

I was talking with a history professor (rljensen) the other day, and he said that free textbook ebooks would never catch on because, quote, "They're all terrible. And if they weren't terrible, they'd be selling them."

Hopefully sites like this will not only prove him wrong, but bring education, world-wide, to the next level.

Re:Well, good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780099)

Wow, what a non-sequitur. "If 1 + 1 isn't equal to 3, then why do schools say otherwise!?"

Re:Well, good. (3, Informative)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 2 years ago | (#39780209)

Uh, I already read stuff like The Prince from Project Guttenberg and it wasn't terrible at all. There is so much literature from the XIXth century or before to read that you would be hard pressed to read it all. Of course they do not sell because they do not cost anything duh.

Re:Well, good. (4, Interesting)

Hadlock (143607) | about 2 years ago | (#39780985)

There's historical works, and then there are works meant to be studied and absorbed by students of this century. Yes, you and I would have no trouble at all with an Algebra book written in 1975, laugh at some of the rather dated soviet russia cartoons explaining parabolic arcs, and probably pass the state standardized test as a result, but how well can you comprehend the Harvard 1899 Entrance Exam [nytimes.com] at a glance?
 
It takes considerable skill and effort to write a text for the appropriate age group, make it engaging, easy to read, yet cover all the material required without losing the 50th percentile students who are struggling to pass so they can stay on the football team (or insert stereotype here).
 
Tools that modern students can relate to aren't simply slapped together in an afternoon, and require a serious editorial staff.

Re:Well, good. (2)

twistedcubic (577194) | about 2 years ago | (#39783817)

C'mon, you're pretending that current and past textbooks "engage" students and contain content "students can relate to", thus unnecessarily raising the bar for open texts. Truthfully, most modern textbooks suck. Their selling point is that they have great typesetting and pretty diagrams. One publisher I talked to wanted us to use a newer edition of a geometry text because the figures were in color (but black and white in the older edition). It's hard to take these people seriously. Anyway, it's a zillion times easier to write an Algebra 1 text than the linux kernel. You can get a great book done in a year with say, 3 contributors and 3 editors. We just need the right leader, and the revolution will begin.

Re:Well, good. (1)

Chryana (708485) | about 2 years ago | (#39783847)

Not only that, but I would like to add that I do not think personally that the few books I have read from project Gutenberg are suitable for educational use... I don't want to slap the project Gutenberg, I like what they do, but the few books I got from their website (mostly French literature) were shock full of spelling mistakes, probably caused by faults in OCR recognition. Maybe schools could run classes where students would have to fix a few chapters during their semester and give back the output of their work to the project (after revision by the teacher, of course).

Re:Well, good. (1)

azalin (67640) | about 2 years ago | (#39781017)

That's because their copyright expired and everybody including P.G. is allowed to reproduce them. There are also many commercial reprints available.
Machiavelli still sells quite well even though it is public domain (or were you talking of another prince?)

Re:Well, good. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#39780425)

A lot of supposedly intelligent people who should really know better conflate high price with high quality.

Re:Well, good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780801)

Thus explaining the success of Apple.

Re:Well, good. (1)

azalin (67640) | about 2 years ago | (#39781097)

I'm pretty sure there are groups that would happily provide you with free biology textbooks. Not only free of charge but also free of evolution and the other blasphemous stuff.

Re:Well, good. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about 2 years ago | (#39782801)

We're seeing groups of instructors come together to create more and more textbooks. They're the people most qualified, a subset of them anyhow.

Re:Well, good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39781371)

Unfortunately, the adage that "you get what you pay for" becomes increasingly true as the manpower required to create a high-quality product increases. Creating high-quality textbooks tends to be a very manpower-intensive activity, particularly as you move away from general education fields and into very specialized fields of knowledge.

And I'm just gonna leave that flame-bait Apple comment alone.

Re:Well, good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780481)

Tell him "You (the Mensheviks) are pitiful isolated individuals; you are bankrupts; your role is played out. Go where you belong from now on - into the dustbin of history!"

Re:Well, good. (1)

ledow (319597) | about 2 years ago | (#39780865)

It's a short-sighted response, certainly.

They won't catch on because there are still THOUSANDS of universities across the world and each one serves the end-products of hundreds of other, smaller schools. And yet, every school you go into has a different set of books, every teacher uses different books to teach from, and every one has a different idea about which is the best book.

So collating that into a single resource that, what? You expect everyone in the world (or a significant majority of people ANYWHERE) to just pick up and use as the sole source for everything on that particular subject? That totally destroys the value of teachers (whether really or just perceived) and provides a monoculture that cannot possibly suit everyone.

There's a thousand Algebra books because there are a thousand times that number of teachers and all have their own preferences. Throughout school and university, I never viewed a book as anything more than a recommendation and I was forced to buy precisely ONE book (and that because the teacher set exercises by page number, which is nothing to do with the book itself - but it does make you wonder who got the back-hander). Most teachers would take things from multiple books all the time because they would all do different things "better" and even then some children understood one more than the other.

Modern teaching is not only firmly embedded into society, but has ideas about teaching children as "individually" as possible because of things like learning styles, learning disabilities, different entry requirements, etc. It doesn't happen, but blanket-teaching from the same book everywhere would effectively cut out a lot of students that need something extra. And if you have to buy something else to fill that gap, well you have two competing books, or more, and they all have their own way of doing things and we're back to square one where they compete (even in free vs paid).

I can learn just about any skill or mathematic I like by googling for it and finding a tutorial. Almost certainly the best one won't be the first one, or the most popular one, or the simplest one, or any other descriptor you could differentiate them on. You can quite literally "learn C in a month", to the same standard it would be taught in a school, from free resources on the Internet if you put the work in and its written in a way you find interesting. But you can't say that what worked for you works for everyone, or that the particular resource you used is somehow "definitive".

Open textbooks are great things to have but, like all things, and especially all things open, the best driver is competition. One "definitive" resource is worthless. Schools are not going to throw everything away and only use that one document, even if algebra hasn't changed in decades (and it has, and the children have, and the teachers have, and the facilities available have, but that's besides the point). It's not even stubbornness, it's just good sense.

Let every university put up their resources and immediately the global value is increased, the possibility of locating errors is enhanced, reputations and competition mean that the quality will only improve over time. Yes, it's a duplication of effort. But so is every junior programmer who writes their own "memset" routine or whatever. The duplication of effort results in 1.01 versions of the final document, on average. That 0.01 is the crucial bit that makes one document "better" than the other and they will BOTH have that and in a way that you can't combine in one document/explanation/analogy without repeating yourself. And for every extra version, you'll get more value that CANNOT be combined into a single, concise document.

Open textbooks were around when I was in university - there were websites written in HTML1 that linked to various free online courses from major universities. My university lecturers distributed their own material and provided textbook recommendations. With the exception of blatant cashing-in by not giving students any choice but to buy the textbook (which itself is impetus not to use a free resource), the majority of resources I actually used were something else entirely - sometimes not even published in the same country as I was!

Openness is brilliant, and could rule the world in education if it wasn't for a vast major hurdle that most of the people who do the job would never use it. But suggesting having one "definitive" resource on anything, open or not, is the best thing to have is like saying that we only need Wikipedia now and can stop bothering with any other site that collects the same information.

I work in schools. I guarantee you that teachers take every effort to minimise the amount of work they have to do. This, almost always, works out as buying a decent resource and rarely involves using things that a) other teachers in the school have bought, b) are free on the Internet (but, of course, it happens too) or c) are pushed as "the" answer to their problems. Hell, most of the time ever-changing curriculum criteria mean that they basically have to throw the "easy option" out of the window and do it themselves.

A free resource is not going to be able to keep up, cater to everyone, be suitable for all students, and cover all quirks of the curricula, let alone even translate to another country (for instance).

Re:Well, good. (2)

UnknownSoldier (67820) | about 2 years ago | (#39781457)

> you expect everyone in the world to just pick up and use as the sole source for everything on a particular topic

You want to tell that to the thiests? :)

It is absolutely *idiotic* to waste human effort duplicating the same thing. *HOW* many fricken textbooks do you _really_ need on any one subject?? More then 10 is just pure greed.

The biggest flaw of capitalism is that it encourages people to waste their lives duplicating goods and promotes the mindless archaic concept of competition instead of rewarding people who cooperate.

Go watch the TED video on choice if you still mistakenly believe more choice is a good thing. SOME choice is the optimal amount.

Re:Well, good. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39786861)

I work in schools.

As what, a janitor? Are you a teacher? I suspect you aren't.

Re:Well, good. (3, Insightful)

SecurityGuy (217807) | about 2 years ago | (#39781023)

Maybe you should have talked to a future professor. :)

People might have said the same thing about software. Plenty still do, but free software does quite well these days. Some of it is terrible. Some of it is spectacularly good. The bottom line is enough of it is good enough.

This also ties in with a story last week or so about Florida (I think) not wanting to be bothered with correcting their tests where students were directed to pick the right answer out of four, but in some cases three of them were technically correct. The stuff we pay good money for isn't very good, either.

Re:Well, good. (1)

srobert (4099) | about 2 years ago | (#39781681)

And was he by chance an author of a history text that was required for the course? I took a chemistry class once where the $200 text was written by six professors, one of whom was teaching the course. On the other end, I also had a math professor who confessed that our 400 page calculus text was a rip-off. He stated that nothing about calculus had changed for decades and a 100 pages would have been more than enough to cover the topic. Unfortunately the choice of text was not up to him.

Re:Well, good. (1)

argStyopa (232550) | about 2 years ago | (#39782181)

What's funny/sad is the inanity of that professor's statement. Is that representative of educators at-large?

I mean, I don't have ANY problem paying for textbooks. People that write and edit those things need to live.

But paying several times the market price for a comparably-sized book, especially when the bulk of that book is regurgitated content functionally identical to what's been produced in the previous 12 editions?

Re:Well, good. (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#39783767)

I was talking with a history professor (rljensen) the other day, and he said that free textbook ebooks would never catch on because, quote, "They're all terrible. And if they weren't terrible, they'd be selling them."

Hopefully sites like this will not only prove him wrong, but bring education, world-wide, to the next level.

you should have pointed out that there are plenty of people willing to sell those free books to people who are stupid enough to buy them! (appstores are full of such stuff!!)

... join the Math Club (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780065)

... Algebra One hasn't changed for centuries, probably ...

Coming from a country with barely two centuries of history ...

If this was the talk of Chinese, Arabs or even Greeks would have sounded much better.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780079)

... not to mention Mayans or Incas ...

Re:... join the Math Club (5, Funny)

RivenAleem (1590553) | about 2 years ago | (#39780087)

I'm reserving judgement of Mayan mathematical prowess until late December.

Re:... join the Math Club (3, Informative)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 2 years ago | (#39780243)

They counted with their hands and feet (base 20 system) if that ain't kewl what is? Of course the thing is, people (particularly journalists) never quite understand the Mayans properly. The thing is just like we have leap years to correct the fact that the year isn't exactly 365 days they had a similar corrective system once a couple of decades were past where they added extra days. These days were in tradition associated with harmful events or whatever so they were usually holydays were people did nothing at all! Then there is the fact that they essentially did not bother extending that basic calendar past a certain year because they saw no use for it (they went extinct like in the XVIth century?). They do have a calendar system which is basically infinite but is seldom used. So the "end of the Mayan calendar" is a bit like the "end of the 32-bit Unix time_t epoch". A big DUH!

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

FrootLoops (1817694) | about 2 years ago | (#39781925)

They did use base 20, but the way most people count with their hands and feet is in base 1, regardless of whether you use 10 fingers or 20 fingers + toes. You can somewhat reasonably count in binary on your fingers, but only up to 10^10 - 1 = 1023. Adding more states to each finger gets really difficult, and who needs to count so high on their fingers anyway?

According to this page [michielb.nl] each digit was written as some bars, each with value 5, plus some dots, each with value 1. You could imitate this system on your hands--eg. right hand for bars, left for dots. If you were good enough you could do the same with your feet for a total of two base-20 digits, though counting in binary nets you a larger maximum with hands only.

Re:... join the Math Club (2)

SecurityGuy (217807) | about 2 years ago | (#39781049)

Forget mathematical prowess, learn their marketing. Tip #1, if you're going to predict the apocalypse, predict it so far in the future that everyone you're talking to will be dead. Some will still be awed by your power to know such things, but never see you for the fraud you are. Today's crackpots always get that wrong, going around rounding up gullible souls for their commune or whatever because the world is going to end in May. Then June comes and they're revealed to be charlatans.

Re:... join the Math Club (4, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#39780095)

It's an absolutely silly statement. Teaching methodology has changed enormously just in the last fifty years. I've had the luxury of comparing 19th century textbooks to present ones—it's not something you'd want to be stuck with; they're more like reference texts with a few questions (or even a separate question book) if you're lucky. The didactic power has, quite simply, vastly improved.

Re:... join the Math Club (2)

LittleImp (1020687) | about 2 years ago | (#39780205)

Textbooks in which field?

Re:... join the Math Club (4, Interesting)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#39780303)

Classics and Math. I've also looked at 60s-70s Biochemistry and compared it with current stuff, and while the content is different, the difference is also huge in teaching style.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

LittleImp (1020687) | about 2 years ago | (#39781175)

Can't really imagine how that is possible. Math textbooks are basically just a listing of basic proofs. Maybe they found simpler solutions in the meantime, but most of the proofs for basic algebra have been done hundreds of years ago. The only difference is probably the text markup.

Re:... join the Math Club (4, Insightful)

MobyDisk (75490) | about 2 years ago | (#39781597)

Math textbooks are basically just a listing of basic proofs.

It sounds like you were educated in the 60s - 70s, because that is what textbooks were at the time. No decent math textbook today just lists basic proofs. That would be a reference book, intended for someone who already knew the math and needed to look-up the steps. A good textbook is more explanatory, breaks out the steps, includes historical anecdotes, footnotes, examples of applications, etc. Since the 60s we have learned that drilling proofs into people's mind is not the optimal way to teach math.

Not that education or textbooks today are perfect, but there have been advances.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39784391)

Thank you so much for telling me that I should look for an old book next time.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

metrometro (1092237) | about 2 years ago | (#39784563)

> Not that education or textbooks today are perfect, but there have been advances.

An interesting question is whether the rate of advancement would be faster or slower using an open source approach. Personally, I wouldn't bet on the gatekeepers.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#39786965)

Well, like it or not, textbook publishers' pockets are so perversely deep that they can actually afford to pay the writers of their flagship books a fair sum. Most professors I've talked to believe it's had a non-negligible effect on the books' quality. Until the open source movement really takes off we won't really know if that's true or not—but they certainly seem to be too scared to find out, given that they've started throwing lawsuits around.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39781783)

That whole Bourbaki thing just went right over your head, huh?

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39781655)

These new textbooks sound great! Anyone know where I can steal a copy? My fast-food job doesn't provide me with enough money to lurn.

Re:... join the Math Club (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780235)

Calculus Made Easy by Silvanus Phillips Thompson was probably the best of my early calculus books, it is off copyright due to its age, and is on amazon for less than $10 and can be found for free online. $150 a quarter just was not a reasonable expense for the other books.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780321)

Teaching methodology has changed, thats why students go to lessons. The teacher is reponsable for conveying the content in a modern manner. But the exercices, the theorems, etc... ? Gimme a break. A Calculus book from 1920 is as good as a modern one. It won't have flashy pictures or color photographs but who cares.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780525)

I take it your not actually a math teacher, or teacher of any other type. The exercises they were using during the 1920s are almost certainly not going to be relevant 90 years later. Buildings are larger and we can do things on calculators that would have taken them an entire page to do back then.

What's more there's been tons of studying done about how to present material and how to organize it that wasn't available back then. You'd be surprised how much of a difference it can make where you put particular concepts.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780595)

At the university level you shouldn't even be using calculators or computers except if you take a course in numerical analysis which is obviously not the case for freshmen taking an introductory Calculus course.

Even Mathematica/Maple are tools, and if you as a student don't understand the limits of the software you're likely to get completely meaningless answers from certain types of problems.
Just because Mathematica spits out an answer doesn't mean it's the correct one.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#39785765)

Oh, speaking of limits: up until the 20th century they weren't used in teaching Calculus whatsoever. Infinitesimals [wikipedia.org] (the idea that a number could have a smallest possible value) were, instead. Another example of how things have changed.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about 2 years ago | (#39786939)

Infinitesimals never really went away -- they may not be formally used in calculus any more, but the practice of treating "dx" as though it were a real number (which works surprisingly well for many types of problems) is a powerful holdover from their era.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39786943)

Infinitesimals are a better approach for learning calculus, and most nonmathematicians who use calculus (e.g. physicists) think in terms of infinitesimals because of their usefulness.

Re:... join the Math Club (4, Interesting)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#39780339)

It's an absolutely silly statement. Teaching methodology has changed enormously just in the last fifty years. I've had the luxury of comparing 19th century textbooks to present onesâ"it's not something you'd want to be stuck with; they're more like reference texts with a few questions (or even a separate question book) if you're lucky. The didactic power has, quite simply, vastly improved.

That is indeed the kind of book I'd like to be stuck with. The signal to noise ratio is way higher, and it's the job of the teacher to teach. Today's teachers are much like typical mid-level management armed with Powerpoint in that they read a pre-digested presentation for a captive audience, without doing much teaching.

If "didactic power [...] has vastly improved", you'd think that kids today would know maths "vastly" better than old people. Really, now.
That's not what I see - I see tests that have been dumbed down to fit a smaller curriculum, and kids have been dumbed down with them.

It's time for the pendulum to swing back; that we start to demand something from our teachers and children. Like being able to absorb book knowledge even when not presented according to the latest pedagogic fad or directly targeting upcoming tests. Enabling the kids to do so is the teachers' job.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780555)

The difference is that kids today are expected to know more in general than back then. Teachers have less time and have to cover more material.

You're begging the question here. Kids today _do_ know more math than they did when you were a kid and when your parents were a kids. It's much more likely that they've taken calculus and even passed a third year of math in high school. What's more just compare what they're using it on compared with what was used 50 years ago.

Sure kids don't necessarily have as much declarative knowledge as was common previously, but complaining about teachers when you don't even have a clue what the situation is, doesn't reflect well on the schools you've been to.

Re:... join the Math Club (2)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#39780647)

The difference is that kids today are expected to know more in general than back then.

This is obviously not true. The books get less and less content (see GGP). Things that were taught before are now dropped, because (in part) of "no child left behind" and the focus on passing tests, not passing knowledge.
When did Charlemagne live? What's the capital of New Zealand? What's a cantilever bridge?
Tell me with a straight face that today's children know these things.

You're begging the question here. Kids today _do_ know more math than they did when you were a kid and when your parents were a kids. It's much more likely that they've taken calculus and even passed a third year of math in high school.

Calculus was mandatory and started in junior high back when I went to school. By ninth grade elective maths or first year high school, you were into derivates and integrals.

What's more just compare what they're using it on compared with what was used 50 years ago.

Yes, let's. They rely on expert systems to do the maths for them, served in task-specific packages.
They wouldn't even be able to do a simple trig calculation to figure out how long a ramp must be to not exceed a certain grade, or how much grain or how long a fence they need or for a non-rectangular lot. They rely on Home Depot to figure it out for them. And the clerks there depend on specialized calculating tools which were written by your mom and dad.

Hell, I can't even get the correct change back when a cash register is broken. And they run to Google when faced with horrible problems like "cook at 250 C" on a stove with F temperatures, because doing 1.8 x + 32 is beyond them.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | about 2 years ago | (#39781129)

Hell, I can't even get the correct change back when a cash register is broken. And they run to Google when faced with horrible problems like "cook at 250 C" on a stove with F temperatures, because doing 1.8 x + 32 is beyond them.

While I'll admit, the inability for people to do the quick mental arithmetic required to give correct change quickly is astonishing to me, honestly, your second gripe seems a little ridiculous. Is that scenario truly something that happens often enough in a person's life that it should be committed to memory?

I mean, I'm all for knowledge for the sake of knowledge, but I'm not going to start shitting on people because they don't remember something that they were taught who knows how many years ago if they basically never use it in their daily lives. Most people only use basic algebra and geometry from day to day. Knowledge of higher mathematics (and unnecessary conversions) to them is about as useful as a shepherd having an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of the Roman Empire. If I've been on a boat 3 times in my entire life, do I need to remember the difference between a nautical mile and a terrestrial one? Or how to convert knots to mph/kph?

Would we have committed as much to memory ourselves in our scholastic careers if there had been an omnipresent internet with which to go looking for the answer at a moment's notice? I doubt it. It's just personal bias on our part, and I admit, I sometimes do it, too, when something that I always considered "common knowledge" is proven not to be so common in younger people I interact with, but such is the nature of common knowledge, it's constantly evolving. I remember a late 19th-century "basic" math test someone emailed me, it was loaded with agricultural conversions and surveying calculations...shit that virtually no one uses on a regular basis anymore. If we could travel back in time, they'd probably think we were a bunch of fucking morons, too, when we couldn't just spit out the answer to something they would consider trivial.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780957)

"You're begging the question here.

No, he's not. You should have had a better English textbook in your youth.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

ethicalcannibal (1632871) | about 2 years ago | (#39782785)

I have to agree with this. I'm in an accounting class right now. The instructor is using the pre packaged textbook website for our quizzes and homework. She is using a syllabus provided by the book company to teach her classes. She knows nothing outside of that. This is a woman that presumably was a teacher before this pre-packaged era, but often says, "I don't know, it's not in this chapter's package." There is literally nothing in this class, that could not have been done at home, and online because there is no teaching being done.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#39786013)

To each his or her own, I guess, but keep in mind that you're probably an exception in saying that. Improved teaching methods do not necessarily need to coincide with lazier students; that's more of a result of anti-intellectualism than anything else. There are, also, some very good reasons for not knowing as much: some material simply isn't relevant to the students' vocation, and the reduction in mental clutter for people in many mentally-intensive professions has made it easier for them to focus on that field itself. (I don't have a citation for this, but I hope it's apparent.) The most prominent example would be the removal of Greek and Latin from the standard curriculum over the course of the 20th century, and a success story of the idea of streamlining people for specific tasks might be Grigori Perelman [wikipedia.org].

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#39787047)

There are, also, some very good reasons for not knowing as much: some material simply isn't relevant to the students' vocation, and the reduction in mental clutter for people in many mentally-intensive professions has made it easier for them to focus on that field itself. (I don't have a citation for this, but I hope it's apparent.)

It is not. It is likely false, and there are good reasons to believe that the more you learn, the greater your ability becomes to learn even more. See "Renaissance man" and "polymath".
The only good reason I can see for removing the study of less relevant fields is if that time is used to study more relevant fields.
Thus the removal of Greek and Latin from the standard curriculum, as you said, not because it would "clutter up" the students' heads, but because that time could be better spent learning other studies.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780385)

they're more like reference texts with a few questions (or even a separate question book) if you're lucky. The didactic power has, quite simply, vastly improved.

But that is excellent for a book that accompanies a lecture! And all books I have actually *used* during my academic career were composed in this way - the "pedagogical" texts (Tipler's "physics"...) waste countless pages on introductions, examples, essays and whatnot, while I can actually find what I am looking for in the, e.g., Bergmann-Schäger or Landau-Lifshitz class of textbooks.
Sadly, this type of book has become rather rare. Now everything tries to be completely self-contained, as if you could learn physics out of a book. In my opinion, this is very much misguided, and counterproductive.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#39786357)

I believe the attitude there is to provide backup in case the professor fails to do an adequate job in lecture, the student misses lecture, or something in between. I've seen a lot of classes where the recommended approach is to read the material that will be covered in the lecture the night before; this exploits a facet of human memory that significantly improves retention by ensuring the student is exposed to it twice. If students actually bothered to do the readings (I, for one, didn't), it would be a significant boon to student performance; better than a naked reference for most people and situations during the normal course of the semester. (That being said, reference works are still indispensable. I have a Greek book from the 1880s where the latter half of it is nothing but a list of rules; over a thousand in all. It can tell you pretty much anything.)

The brilliance of modern teaching (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780489)

I've been taking a Mandarin course aimed at British teenagers (though I'm much older). It is impossible to learn anything from the "textbook". It is almost entirely pictures and exercises. There is a very short dictionary, but absolutely no grammar. It's the kind of workbook I was getting when I was seven years old.

Call me an old fart, but I like learning from books. I'd much rather have a reference book than a picture book.

Re:The brilliance of modern teaching (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#39786625)

As far as I can tell, language courses in particular have been crippled for many years due to a general absence of background knowledge in linguistics. I definitely can't make any apologies for them; that's how I ended up with all of those old textbooks in the first place.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

JDG1980 (2438906) | about 2 years ago | (#39780961)

Teaching methodology has changed enormously just in the last fifty years.

No doubt. But has the actual education of average students in these subjects gotten better, or worse? (I say "average" students because the best students will always find a way to learn almost no matter what, and the worst students will find a way NOT to learn no matter what.)

I've had the luxury of comparing 19th century textbooks to present onesâ"it's not something you'd want to be stuck with; they're more like reference texts with a few questions (or even a separate question book) if you're lucky.

Why is that a bad thing? Sounds to me like this would mostly be a problem for the laziest teachers who basically delegate their entire job to the textbook. The textbook is supposed to be a reference, not the entire class.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#39786825)

There are plenty of cases in which a long drawn-out explanation of the material is beneficial: the teacher could indeed be lazy, or they could be too busy, or the student may not grasp the teacher's approach, or they went too quickly... when you add up all of the reasons, I would argue that you go from the majority of teachers down to a small minority of them. In addition, you have students missing class and students studying for the exam. And actually, all of that is beside the point: the ideal teaching style for these textbooks is for the student to read a section the night before it's covered in the class. Both hearing and seeing the same content within 24 hours can greatly improve retention.

Re:... join the Math Club (3, Insightful)

SecurityGuy (217807) | about 2 years ago | (#39781091)

Fair enough, so we get a new edition of a textbook every 50 years. Let's be generous, and say every 10. Is that what happens now? No, it isn't. When I was in college not THAT long ago, using last year's edition was generally frowned upon but not quite forbidden. Not because the meat of the course was different, but because things like page numbers might be different, problems might be different, et cetera. Now, does that speak to a massive increase in didactic power, or precisely what you, the publisher, would do if you wanted to force students to buy new books instead of used ones?

A college education is getting very expensive. This is okay, because a college education is enormously valuable. Nevertheless, we are entirely right to want to crush waste out of a very expensive system. I learned from my expensive econ textbooks that this is going to happen whether you like it or not because rich profits attract competition, and competition drives prices down. Switching around the pages, updating the examples in ways that doesn't change the content meaningfully, and changing the practice problems around is simply an artificial price support. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Re:... join the Math Club (2)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | about 2 years ago | (#39781329)

Switching around the pages, updating the examples in ways that doesn't change the content meaningfully, and changing the practice problems around is simply an artificial price support. Enjoy it while it lasts.

Hence why some colleges are just building the cost of the eTextbooks into the tuition from the outset...you don't even get a choice anymore. Someone's palms are getting greased for that arrangement, I'm sure; like any other arm of the MAFIAA, they're not going to let an antiquated business model get in their way of increasing profits.

At least, that's how things are here in the U.S., based on the comments of extended family members currently in college. Textbooks were always a fucking racket, we all know that, but it's getting more and more ridiculous year after year. eTextbooks are great for the publisher...no more used market to compete with, no more kids scraping by using a library copy of their text, and since they're starting to add it in to tuition, they have a guaranteed sale with every admission.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

Creepy (93888) | about 2 years ago | (#39781561)

A real racket is when your prof requires you to buy his textbook, which is not published and is 135 pages of (double sided) photocopied paper for $280 in 1996 dollars. I imagine now he'd charge $100 more now and e-publish it. I couldn't sell it back, either. At least that was the worst case - I had about 3 other self-published classes, but most were in the $30-40 range.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39786343)

Yeah at our school around the middle of the time I was there we had teachers self-publishing. Almost all of them made it really cheap (Either free for ebooks, or like 10-20 dollars for 150-250 page self published books.) The only time I got rankled by the whole thing was one when of them had 'Pearson Publishing' stamped on the second page and one of those page long copyright notices in it.

If you're going to self publish, at least do it through somebody other than the bastards who've driven costs up and quality down enough to require you to write your own course material!

But then again, most of my professors in the computer science/business department wouldn't have (or in fact ducked in there from) the real world, where they were almost as big of slackers as their teaching showed (there were like 2 exceptions, plus one who hadn't had another job since college! Boom! College, Professor. Real Elitist prick too).

Anyhow with any luck we'll get some crowdsourced books from experts who'd rather stick it to the man than make obscene profits. But I won't hold out too much hope, rare are the visionaries who both have the focus and the skill to make such things happen.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

SecurityGuy (217807) | about 2 years ago | (#39782847)

I'd be OK with electronic texts as long as I get to keep a copy forever and it's in a format that guarantees it's not just an encrypted useless blob at some point in the future. Obviously, that's not how the publishers want to do it. One of the reasons I'm where I am today is because my aunts and uncles left old college textbooks at my grandparents' house. I read them and was inspired to go learn. For the same reason, I never sold back a single college textbook.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | about 2 years ago | (#39786887)

I am completely and totally in support of everything you just said, yes. Textbook companies are far too parasitic to pass as the well-behaved symbiotes they ought to be.

Textbooks should be reference texts (1)

KalvinB (205500) | about 2 years ago | (#39782841)

That's exactly what a textbook should be. Now, we have about 1/2 a page of actual useful information per 10-20 pages of chapter. A student can actually carry around a reference text. Textbooks today are mostly just question books with no teaching value. I can use Infinite Math to generate questions. What students need is a book that actually helps explain things.

Instead, because the textbooks are useless, they have to rely solely on notes.

Re:... join the Math Club (3, Interesting)

bfandreas (603438) | about 2 years ago | (#39780169)

Even more interestingly the Greek were comparatively lousy at math. Good at geometry, tho. The Romans had a similar problem. Their number system did stink.

Re:... join the Math Club (2)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#39780403)

Even more interestingly the Greek were comparatively lousy at math. Good at geometry, tho. The Romans had a similar problem. Their number system did stink.

Mathematics was held back quite a bit for quite a long time by religion. When institutionalized superstition abhors the concept of void (zero), you have a serious drawback.
(This is why 1BC is followed by 1AD, by the way.)

Similar for negative numbers, and more recently, infinity and imaginary numbers. The latter two still aren't taught below adult education levels in some particularly superstitious countries.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780877)

I"ll bite--- which countries do not teach the concept of infinity, and imaginary numbers? Do they single these out, or just... not teach much math at all (e.g. to women for example).

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

bfandreas (603438) | about 2 years ago | (#39780963)

You don't even have to go into infinity and imaginary numbers. Even real numbers are a problem with fundtards.

Do I have to remind you that there was legislation that said that PI = 3?

I really hate that the media gives those idiots airtime in order to provide "fair and balanced reporting".

But I do support the abolishment of 0 as a concept. It makes coding so much simpler. Also the letter "c" is not necessary. We kan do without it.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

FrootLoops (1817694) | about 2 years ago | (#39782083)

But I do support the abolishment of 0 as a concept. It makes coding so much simpler.

Hear hear! I'm sick and tired of all these "null reference exceptions" and "segmentation faults" my programs keep throwing. Each time I debug them I find a 0. If 0 didn't exist, neither would my problems!

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39781347)

When [religion] abhors the concept of void (zero) ... (This is why 1BC is followed by 1AD, by the way.)

[citation needed]

I actually read the Wikipedia page on the 0 (year):

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/0_(year)

Nowhere on that page does it mention religion as why there is no year 0. The most likely explanation is also the most logical: the year before the birth of Christ is 1BC, and the year after the birth of Christ is 1AD. There wouldn't be a year 0 because you wouldn't have an entire year in between "before the birth of Christ" and "after the birth of Christ", since the birth of Christ probably didn't take a year.

I don't doubt there was superstition over the year 0, but to blame no year 0 on religion without citations is disingenuous, at best.

Re:... join the Math Club (1)

arth1 (260657) | about 2 years ago | (#39782943)

)Nowhere on that page does it mention religion as why there is no year 0. The most likely explanation is also the most logical: the year before the birth of Christ is 1BC, and the year after the birth of Christ is 1AD. There wouldn't be a year 0 because you wouldn't have an entire year in between "before the birth of Christ" and "after the birth of Christ", since the birth of Christ probably didn't take a year.

I assure you, the year he was born in took a full year.

Re:... join the Math Club (2)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 2 years ago | (#39781575)

Mathematics was held back quite a bit for quite a long time by religion.

That's not entirely true:
- Guys like Pythagoras (c 500 BCE) and Aristotle (c 400 BCE) were living in a polytheistic society where religion was not really the force that it became under Christianity. Everyone seems to have paid at least lip service to worshipping the official state gods, but it was nothing like an environment where if you didn't profess a particular faith you were killed. Roman documents were very clear that they were generally fine with people believing whatever they wanted unless that belief encouraged them to revolt against Rome (which Nero thought the Christians were doing). And the BC / AD split (now BCE / CE, of course) obviously wasn't something that happened until Christianity became fairly well established.
- The Abbasid Caliphate actively encouraged and funded the study of mathematics and science from about 750 CE to 1250 CE, in what has been termed the Islamic Golden Age. The difference between the math that was being used by the Romans and the math that was available for Isaac Newton to draw on are largely the result of Arabic mathematicians (who in turn drew from mathematicians in India) - they had codified writing of numbers including fractions and decimals, created algebra and trigonometry, and vastly improved understanding of irrational numbers.
- The aforementioned Isaac Newton was incredibly religious, writing a great deal about alchemy and metaphysics. Same with Renee Descartes: his magnum opus was a philosophical proof (in his mind at least) that God exists.

If you mean that mathematics was held back in Europe in the Middle Ages due to dogmatic Christianity, then you'd be somewhat right, but that's different from all religion holding back all mathematics.

Re:... join the Math Club (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39785127)

Actually, I cringed a little bit with that line. George Polyas "How to Solve it" seems to have had at least a mild influence on all of the math textbooks I have at home. Not that that will hold back an open text book, just that the quote is a little exaggerated.

Open textbooks = socialism (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780111)

If you want free and open textbooks go live in North Korea!

Lost revenue (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780325)

Here we go again, the pirates are at it again!
Do you know the enormity of the lost revenue for publishing/printing companies when all ancient knowledge would go open source?

With a lot of struggle, the publishers managed to make wikipedia sound untrustworthy, but now a real university is going to review textbooks. It's the end of the industry.

Publishers strike back (-1, Flamebait)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | about 2 years ago | (#39780371)

"In related news, police have announced finding the body of a hooker in the trunk of a car owned by David Ernst."

Old News (1)

charliebear (887653) | about 2 years ago | (#39780411)

Everybody knows that if you don't open your textbook, it is easier to return as new at the end of the semester. This is just a ploy by the bookstore to foil my plot to save money.

Who does this really help or benefit? (2)

adosch (1397357) | about 2 years ago | (#39780463)

This is a great concept, but who does this benefit in the end? I know quiet a few professors that I took classes from that the very books we used in 'their' classes were one's they 1) either knew a close colleague in their field that reviewed it or provided input into it (see liner notes for their names) or 2) endorsed or provided input on the writing or content of it themselves. Outside of that, there's always going to be that uber passionate professor that isn't going to like the quality, content or organization of the open textbooks they have to choose from and opt to still pick the book of their choice for the benefit of their students and curriculum.

So let's say this flies for gen-ed courses, which is totally could. I don't see it working at all for actual studies or specific majors with changing content or new adoptive technologies.

Hoping on the student loan bandwagon a second, let's say even half of a students book moved to an openly available one, it still wouldn't make a dent in reducing costs for the student in any manner of impact. I also thought my university's bookstore thoroughly enjoyed raping student's pocket books on the re-re-re-reselling of used books at a dirt cheap by-back tactic. Either way, if I see the fee or cost difference falling right back into the student's lap as some 'new' fee line-item.

Re:Who does this really help or benefit? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39780637)

You're right this isn't a perfect solution so we sshould not do anything.

Re:Who does this really help or benefit? (1)

metrometro (1092237) | about 2 years ago | (#39782525)

It helps the people who currently have to pay $150 for an Algebra book. How is this even in question?

Let's look at this for a moment: Say there's 100 people in an Intro Algebra class. That's $15,000. Knock off $1000 for paper and ink. That's enough money to write a decent first draft. Let's say the book is used twice. That's enough to edit it. Everything after that is waste.

Re:Who does this really help or benefit? (1)

adosch (1397357) | about 2 years ago | (#39782823)

Must be pretty normal for you to just come on slashdot to be a douche-troll, argue-for-the-sake-of-arguing moron? I find it insulting to quote myself, you can re-read parent. I said it would have potential to fly for gen-ed. But what about outside of that?

Great caveman-checkbook-foolery math, "Lets take 100 people x $150 and make a BIG number to post about". How about this for reality math for just one of those 100 'mystery' people you mentioned:

* $150 - Cost of one ged-ed book

* Maybe 8 gen-ed books at maximum for open book substitute ($150 x 8 = $1200 in book savings over two semesters)

* Total Cost for a 4 year (lets be honest, most ppl do 5 years now) decent school, all on student loans = $38,000

WOW! Maybe a 3% savings on your total school bill? Who cares. Any student with half a drive can go get a part-time job at McDonalds for $12 minimum and put a bigger dent in that school bill than waiting for the openbook miracle to save them some $$$.

So what was your argument again? I thought so, Will Hunting.

Re:Who does this really help or benefit? (1)

gl4ss (559668) | about 2 years ago | (#39784181)

150 bucks buys a lot of potatos, if you don't know it you never were shoe stringing it as a student and what about those shitty schools? it's not like they wouldn't need good books on the cheap.

here's some ascii art:
+3 +3 +3 +3 +3 +3 +3 +3 +3 +3

that's 5 years, 4500$. a good chunk of money regardless if you spent 38k in 4 years or not.

the biggest racket is when the professor makes a separate business from his position by hocking books - either for straight up cash, booze or goodwill from someone who arranged him some weed and a bj. remember that when paying 50 bucks for some photocopies or hundred bucks for a book which cost a fiver to print and nobody would be using unless it was the professor who co-wrote it and pushed it to his students - and which consists of poorly translated 20 year old ideas unfit for the modern world.

wtf do we even need books for in an age when the professor could(if he could be bothered to take time from boozing and scheming for grants) just write down the material electronically as the course advances, because he uh, knows the material he is teaching... right?

Re:Who does this really help or benefit? (1)

adosch (1397357) | about 2 years ago | (#39785715)

150 bucks buys a lot of potatos, if you don't know it you never were shoe stringing it as a student

Right. What would I know about shoe-stringing. I'm surprised you left your 'woe-is-me' story out of this post. I really am. $150 today is two tanks of gas for commuting and eating out with the wife and kids once a week. Shoe-stringing or not, it doesn't go as far as it used to and everyone has that expense, white collar or not.

the biggest racket is when the professor makes a separate business from his position by hocking books - either for straight up cash, booze or goodwill from someone who arranged him some weed and a bj.

You must have went to a tech school or some half-ass community college where they call half-ass knock-off professionals 'step-in night professors'. No one professor I know in any decent state school or Big 10 college did that. ever. period. Baseless.

wtf do we even need books for in an age when the professor could(if he could be bothered to take time from boozing and scheming for grants)

You sound bitter. Perhaps you should have read that $150 Algebra book more, got a PhD and have become a professor. Sounds like 'the dream life'; booze and free money.

Re:Who does this really help or benefit? (1)

metrometro (1092237) | about 2 years ago | (#39784457)

> Maybe a 3% savings on your total school bill? Who cares.

Creating value equal to 3% of the general education outlay, scaled to the English speaking world, would be kind of a big deal. Particularly when it also creates open courseware that can be freely used by non-enrolled students as a happy externality.
 

The missing piece (1)

bmaguire (1533089) | about 2 years ago | (#39780515)

This kind of peer review is absolutely the most important missing part of the Open Text puzzle. One of the things text publishers still have going for them is the stamp of approval they give simply by publishing a text.

Re:The missing piece (1)

colinrichardday (768814) | about 2 years ago | (#39782551)

Because no one could ever review an open textbook.

Re:The missing piece (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39784449)

Having a nice repository of open texts and their reviews means that finding quality is rather easier than googling "open Algebra books." Also, if experienced faculty are involved, they might be able to include things like "similar to book X, but does better at topic Y". Thus giving those transitioning a better feel for how much change they have to make to their current syllabi to adopt them.

Ads (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39781081)

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UMN (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39783241)

A few years ago I was a grad student at the U of M and the job that put me through school was in educational technology. David Ernst was my boss's boss's boss. When I met him I thought he was a returning grad student whom I hadn't met yet and doing the same job as me, and he was very funny about the encounter. Anyways, they've been working on addressing stuff like this for a long time and it's amazing to see the project blossoming.

His statement about algebra one not changing is perhaps a little careless and distracts from the point of the project. There are plenty of good open source texts out there, and to have a knowledgable group diligently working to locate and promote the best ones is great for students.

Not in Texas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#39785155)

He's wrong. Algebra 1 is different in Texas

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